The four titles in the June 2014 NewTACTics New Play Festival, a program of Off-Broadway’s TACT/The Actors Company Theatre, are Thomas Gibbons’ Uncanny Valley, Jeff Talbott’s A Public Education, Kenneth Jones’ Alabama Story and Matte O’Brien’s The Wonderful Mr. and Mrs. O’Leary.
The June 18-19 presentation of Alabama Story marks the title’s first public reading in New York City following the announcement of its planned January 2015 world premiere by Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City. The play had earlier developmental readings by Alabama Shakespeare Festival in its Southern Writers’ Project (May 2013) and in Pioneer’s inaugural Play-By-Play New Play Reading Series (April 2014).
Alabama Story is a finalist in the 2014 National Playwrights Conference of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Festival.
The directors in the 2014 newTACtics series are David Alpert, Karen Azenberg, Lauren Miller and Wes Grantom. Read more about an earlier reading of Jeff Talbott’s A Public Education, which was also heard PTC’s Play-By-Play series in Utah.
The 29-hour rehearsal/performance process allows writers to look at their work in a concentrated setting, address possible rewrites and hear feedback from audiences following two public presentations. The 7 PM Wednesday and Thursday readings on consecutive weeks June 4-26 are free to the public, with reservations required.
Each reading will be preceded by a complimentary wine reception beginning at 6:30 PM, and followed by a moderated talkback with the cast, director and playwright. Performances take place at the TACT Studio at 900 Broadway, Suite 905.
Learn more about TACT’s other programs, including its full Off-Broadway productions, Salon Series and membership opportunities, at tactnyc.org. TACT’s co-artistic directors are Scott Alan Evans, Cynthia Harris and Jenn Thompson. Christy Ming-Trent is general manager. Lauren Miller is associate producer of NewTACTics.
Here are details about the 2014 NewTACTics New Play Festival.
Written by Thomas Gibbons
Directed by Lauren Miller
Featuring: Nora Chester and Anthony Roach
Wednesday June 4th at 7 PM
Thursday June 5th at 7 PM
“Claire, a neuroscientist, contends with her own mind while she teaches Julian, a non-biological being, how to be human. Julian gains an extraordinary humanity, or perhaps merely a simulation of it, but he crosses a boundary when Claire’s personal life is placed at the mercy of Julian’s free will. In this terse and compelling drama, the creator and her creation peer over the edge of the Uncanny Valley to confront the inherent unpredictability of consciousness.”
FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT
“Uncanny Valley began in my dentist’s waiting room. Leafing through a magazine, I saw a photograph: a man in a chair facing a table, on top of which is placed a startlingly lifelike robotic head. Arresting enough, but as I looked at the photo I found myself equally intrigued by the room surrounding them. Instead of a sterile laboratory, the two are in an incongruously old-fashioned parlor with carpet, a floor lamp, heavy drapes and stenciled walls. Something about this photograph haunted me — maybe the disjunction between the turn-of-the-(last) century room, and the cultural stability it embodies, and the robotic head’s confident, self-possessed gaze. Or maybe it was the head itself, which seems about to speak.”
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Thomas Gibbons is playwright-in-residence at InterAct Theatre Company in Philadelphia, which has premiered eight of his plays: Pretending to America, 6221, Axis Sally, Black Russian, Bee-luther-hatchee, Permanent Collection, A House With No Walls and Silverhill. Other plays include The Exhibition and Homer. His plays have also been seen at the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, Off-Off-Broadway at Blue Heron Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Florida Stage, Unicorn Theatre, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, New Repertory Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre, Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, Kirk Douglas Theatre/Center Theater Group, Aurora Theatre, Madison Repertory Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre, and many others. He is the recipient of seven playwriting fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Roger L. Stevens Award from The Fund for New American Plays, the Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwriting Award, the NAACP Theatre Award, two Barrymore Awards for Outstanding New Play, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. Permanent Collection was the pilot selection of the National New Play Network’s Continued Life of New Plays Fund, and A House With No Walls was a subsequent selection. Both plays, along with Bee-luther-hatchee, are published by Playscripts.
A PUBLIC EDUCATION
Written by Jeff Talbott
Directed by Wes Grantom
Wednesday June 11th at 7 PM
Thursday June 12th at 7 PM
“Luke Paxton is the new guy in the faculty room and he can’t wait to get started. But between his fellow teachers, a troubled student and some really nasty things being said on the Internet, it’s hard for anybody to concentrate on classes. This is the world of A Public Education, a timely comic drama where the big question is: who is really getting schooled?”
FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT
“I have many friends and family members who are educators, and doing their difficult job well is one of the true heroic efforts at work in our society today. Much has been written about how beleaguered they are, and with good reason; they are set upon from seemingly every side: low pay (which we can’t seem to fix), high expectations (from parents, from students, from themselves), and a sometimes impenetrable system to navigate just to get to the kids. A couple of years ago, I interviewed several dozen educators in an anonymous survey to get as much candor as possible, and then looked at their informative and fantastic responses and tried to figure out how they fit into a play. As I don’t know what I have to offer on the system itself, I took their responses and used them as ballast to give a workplace story both authenticity and inspiration, and began to explore our current fascination with the apparently bottomless plethora of anonymous opinion to be found on the ever-expanding world wide web. A Public Education is the little story I found begging me to help it find voice. I love these teachers and this kid; hopefully I’m doing them justice.”
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Jeff Talbott graduated with honors from the Yale School of Drama. His play The Submission was the inaugural recipient of the Laurents/Hatcher Award in 2011 and was produced Off-Broadway by MCC Theater; it also received the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for Outstanding New American Play in 2012. The play was a semi-finalist for the 2010 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and it was in the final round of consideration for the 2010 New Play Summit at the Denver Center. Since its premiere, it has had productions all over the country. His play All the Stars in the Midnight Sky was a part of NewTACTics in 2013. His one-acts For Nate and Molly and Tender both received world premiere productions by the Yale Cabaret. A Public Education also had a developmental workshop this spring at Pioneer Theatre Company. He lives in New York City and is currently working on an original musical with Will Van Dyke.
Written by Kenneth Jones
Directed by Karen Azenberg
Wednesday June 18th at 7 PM
Thursday June 19th at 7 PM
“A children’s picture book about a white rabbit marrying a black rabbit stirs the passions of a segregationist senator and a librarian in 1959 Montgomery, just as the Civil Rights movement is flowering. Inspired by true events, Alabama Story puts co-workers, star-crossed lovers and one frisky children’s author on the same page to conjure a Deep South of the imagination.”
FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT
“Strong characters and richly contrasting conflicts rarely just fall into my lap, but that’s exactly what happened when I opened the newspaper and read the obituary of a retired librarian named Emily Wheelock Reed. In 1959, Reed was director of Alabama Public Library Service in Montgomery, serving as the state’s chief librarian. A local segregationist newspaper objected to a children’s book in the library’s holdings, and the concern caught the ear of a pro-segregation state senator named E.O. Eddins. The picture book, ‘The Rabbits’ Wedding’ by Garth Williams, portrays the frolicsome friendship and gentle marriage between a white rabbit and a black rabbit. The senator wanted the book taken off of the shelves; the librarian refused. Opposites were immediately evident in this slice of American history, and instantly I recognized the building blocks for a play.”
“I knew very early in the process that I didn’t want to write a dry docudrama. Taking a cue from children’s literature and children’s theatre, I sought ways for the story to leap off of the page and shake up the theatregoer’s imagination while staying true to the essence of the history. I started by placing Garth Williams himself as narrator (and frisky utility player in other roles). I commingled fictional characters with real people and gave them shared history in a time of extraordinary social change. Characters occasionally ‘pop up’ to address the audience directly in a highly theatrical drama about tests of character in what I call The Deep South of the Imagination.”
“Alabama itself, and its complex history as both the cradle of the Confederacy and the crucible of the Civil Rights movement, is very much present in the play. Research trips to Emily’s very workplace (the current Alabama State Archive Building) and the senator’s domain (the State Capitol and his hometown of Demopolis), as well as interviews with Montgomery historians and residents, helped inform my threading of a tapestry of characters, ideas and theatrical styles. The play’s ambitious weave echoes the intricacy of the Southern — and, I hope, universal — experience that was the uneasy march of personal and political progress in the 20th century.”
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Kenneth Jones is a playwright, librettist, lyricist and journalist. Alabama Story is a 2014 finalist in the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference. It will receive its world premiere in January 2015 at Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City. It was first read in Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s Southern Writers’ Project Festival of New Plays in May 2013, followed by reading in April 2014 as part of Pioneer’s inaugural Play-By-Play new works series. Karen Azenberg directed each leg of its development and will stage the premiere. Jones’ O. Henry-inspired musical Voice of the City (with music by Elaine Chelton) was presented in The York Theatre Company’s Developmental Reading Series Off-Broadway, followed by a workshop produced by The Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, OH. His satiric musical comedy Naughty/Nice, written with composer Gerald Stockstill, was seen in developmental and charitable concert readings in Manhattan, including a 2013 staging at Caroline’s On Broadway. It was a semi-finalist in the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals. For their theatre songs, Stockstill & Jones are the recipients of the 2010 Dottie Burman Songwriting Award from the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs (MAC). He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, BMI and the advanced BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. Between 1998 and 2013 he was a leading writer and editor at Playbill.com. Visit ByKennethJones.com.
THE WONDERFUL MR. & MRS. O’LEARY
Written by Matte O’Brien
Directed by David Alpert
Wednesday June 25th at 7 PM
Thursday June 26th at 7 PM
“Ellie and Patrick McDowell are a pair of restless siblings who occupy themselves by navigating their mother’s insecurities, her latest boyfriend’s shifting moods, and the doldrums of their small Louisiana town. All hope of escaping the reality of their situation seems lost until an after-school job materializes – babysitting for The Wonderful Mr. & Mrs. O’Leary. This darkly comic play reveals the power of imagination in the indefinite space between childhood and adulthood.”
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Matte O’Brien is a writer/director based out of New York City. He began his theatrical career as a performer over 20 years ago. He is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and has performed Off-Broadway, on National Tours and at regional theatres across the country. As a writer, he has had numerous pieces produced throughout the United States and Europe, including White Noise, a rock musical produced by Whoopi Goldberg and directed by Sergio Trujillo; which had successful commercial runs at Le Petit Theatre in the French Quarter of New Orleans and the Royal George Theater in Chicago. O’Brien received a Jeff Award nomination for the Chicago production. His musical The Lost Boy: a tale of a drowning in Neverland (formerly Peter & I), written with composer Matt Vinson, was recently produced Off-Broadway through the Araca Project at the American Theatre of Actors. His play The Meaning of Life…and other useless pieces of information played the 45th Street Theatre Off-Broadway in New York City. He has also written and directed workshop productions of Morning Has Broken and Becoming David; the latter starring Tony Award nominee Lorraine Serabian. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. O’Brien has directed a wide range of plays and musicals in both the USA and UK, featuring Tony and Olivier Award-winning talent. He served for three seasons as the artistic director for the Colonie Summer Theatre and is a founding member and the producing artistic director of Rope Swing Entertainment in New York City. His most recent endeavors have included writing and directing the critically acclaimed play, As Flies to Wanton Boy at The Arches in Glasgow; and staging the world premiere of Catherine Grosvenor’s The Tinderbox, which toured London, Glasgow and Edinburgh. O’Brien holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Syracuse University and a Masters in Directing Classic and Contemporary Text from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.